Online Backup Best Practices – Third in a Series of Five

Rob Cosgrove, CEO Remote Backup Systems

This five part series by Rob Cosgrove helps Managed Service Providers and Online Backup consultants design correct backup protocol for their customers.

This third article suggests specific files and folders to include and exclude, and explains how to define backup sets. Other articles in the series cover setting backup strategies, optimizing backup time by identifying data that needs to be backed up online, selecting backup types, and defining schedules. 

 Defining Backup Sets

Because different groups of files have different tiers (critical, important and archival) which coexist on the same hard drive, Online Backup software needs a way to assign include/exclude parameters and schedules by file groups called Backup Sets.

Some Backup Sets contain critical data that needs to be backed up every day and kept for twelve months, with a Recovery Time Objective of three hours, and the ability to do a point-in-time restore.

Some Backup Sets contain less important data that only needs to be backed up every two days, only kept for ninety days, and doesn’t need point-in-time restore.

Part of your job as a consultant is to help your customers design a backup strategy that backs up the correct files often enough to meet the company’s Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), while archiving data for the required amount of time, and providing the ability to roll back through multiple versions by date or version number. 

Let’s have a look at a typical small Server that contains a mix of critical data (Exchange Server, System State and Active Directory), important data, and archival data.

Typically 70% of data on a Server never changes, or changes very rarely. There are usually many old files that are not being used and might never change, but the end user wants them backed up. If you (as the Service Provider) have a hands-on relationship with the customer, the decision on how to categorize the data should be made by interviewing the end user to determine what applications his business relies on and what data usually changes.

RBackup works on Windows servers. It will automatically detect Exchange, SQL Server, Active Directory and Sharepoint, and will display icons for you to use to back up these special databases. These applications are always considered “critical” and should be backed up frequently.

A typical small Windows server might have three backup sets, designed like this:

  • Backup Set 1 (Critical)
    Included: MS Exchange, SQL Server, System State, Active Directory
    AutoSelect: OFF
    Backup Type: BitBackup
    Schedule: Daily
    Keep Latest Version: ON
    Retention Period: 365 Days
    File Selection: Modified Date/Time


  • Backup Set 2 (Important)
    Included: All MS Office Documents
    AutoSelect: ON
    Backup Type: BitBackup
    Schedule: Daily
    Keep Latest Version: ON
    Retention Period: 180 Days
    File Selection: Fast Pick


  • Backup Set 3 (Archival)
    Included: Manually selected folders and files
    AutoSelect: OFF
    Backup Type: BitBackup
    Schedule: Weekly
    Keep Latest Version: ON
    Retention Period: 30 Days
    File Selection: Archive Bit


Workstations are desktop or laptop computers that may or may not be networked with more powerful Servers. Employees do virtually all of their work at the consoles of workstations. Servers are rarely operated by employees for day-to-day tasks, and may be locked away in a closet.

Workstations and laptops usually have different backup and restore requirements than Servers, and sometimes need only one Backup Set. Servers are usually administered by someone who is more computer literate than people who use workstations, so the directory structure of a Server is usually more standardized and easier to back up.

Workstations, however, can have valuable files virtually anywhere on their drives. If the computers were installed and the software configured by a professional, you might be able to depend on critical files being in the right folders. Otherwise, you may have to search for them. RBackup and Mercury have features that can locate critical files automatically.

Recommended Include and Exclude Rules

Here are the most important folders to consider when designing a backup strategy for workstations and non-networked computers, along with my opinion of their importance and recommendations for including or excluding them.

Personal Files (Critical-Include) – Windows computers usually store personal, user generated files in a folder structure whose root is a virtual folder called My Documents. Depending on the application you use to look at the file system, this folder can also look like: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\My Documents\ Mac computers store personal files in a folder structure whose root is called Users.

Start Menu (Critical-Include) – This is where Windows computers store their application shortcuts and group folders. There are two Start Menus – one for the logged in user and the other shared by all users. They are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Start Menu\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\.

Desktop (Critical-Include) – Windows and Macs store their desktop shortcuts and other objects here. For Windows there are two – one for the logged in user and the other shared by all users. They are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Desktop\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Desktop\. Macs store desktop items in \Users\[User Name]\Desktop\.

Favorites (Critical-Include) – Windows computers store all the items in the Favorites menus of browsers and other applications here. Back these up: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Favorites\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Favorites\.

User Profile Folders (Critical-Optional) – These are the root folders for all of the “Include” folders above. Some service providers like to back up these folders instead of individually selecting the folders within them, and I agree, as long as you properly manage the Global Exclusions list available exclusively in RBackup (See Global Exclusions later in this chapter). The User Profile folders are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\.

Application Data (Critical-Include) – These folders contain information used by the Program Files (below). The data in these folders is for personal settings and preferences, and databases like Outlook and Outlook Express. I recommend you back them up as long as you use software like RBackup or Mercury that contains a Global Exclusions list.

Program Files (Archival-Exclude) – These are the files that operate the applications installed on the workstation. They are copied to the hard drive during installation, and rarely changed. Usually Windows workstations have their program files stored in a folder called Program Files while Macs store their program files in a folder called Applications. These files do not usually need to be backed up. Restoring them would not make them useable. They must be re-installed from the original distribution media.

Internet Cache (Unimportant-Exclude) – The Internet cache contains temporary files used by web browsers to speed up browsing sessions. These files should not be backed up. C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\

System Files (Unimportant-Exclude) – These are files used almost exclusively by the operating system. Restoring them would not make them useful. These files will be replaced by reloading the operating system after a complete failure. On Windows: C:\Windows\ and C:\Windows\System32 and c:\WINNT\ Mac: \System\

Read the next article in this series here.

Rob Cosgrove is the President of Remote Backup Systems, founder of the Online Backup Industry, and a vocal advocate for maintaining the highest standards in Online Backup software. His latest book, the Online Backup Guide for Service Providers: How to Start and Operate an Online Backup Service, is available online now, on, and at bookstores.

Remote Backup Systems provides brandable, scalable software and solutions to MSPs and VARs enabling them to offer Online Backup Services.


About The Author

Steve Roberts /

Steve Roberts is VP of Engineering at Remote Backup Systems (, developers of the RBackup Online Backup software platform, providing software powering more than 9,500 Service Providers in 65 countries since 1987.